Doctoral art project:

Word on Letter

Short Web Narratives on Typography

Jelena Drobac
Aleksandra Jovanić PhD, Assistant Professor

"Word on Letter" is ан artistic doctoral project that explores typography in practice, but also in the wider social and historical context. In the era of early printing, typography was a clear indicator of the geographical origin and of a higher social status while in the modern time is an indispensable part of the social landscape. Good typography reflects the culture and diversity of society corresponding to cultural heritage, while meaningful and well-arranged signalization is an indicator of interest and awareness of the importance of visual communication and accessibility. Thus, the typography matters from the social, historical and also an ontological perspective.

Juxtaposed to typography, which has been with us in the modern sense since 1450 and has changed very slightly in the meantime, internet has been present in the last few decades and has developed in a much faster pace, in accordance to the time in which it was created. The thing that typography and internet have in common is utter omnipresence, and the two are constantly interweaving. The impact of these two concepts, and two media that significantly differ with different philosophies and yet very interconnected are the backbone of the project “Word on Letter”.

Adopting the Walter Benjamin idea from 1934 that "the reader and observer become collaborators and participants in the construction of meaning," this project consists of a series of eight short interactive narrative forms with different themes on letters and letter:

+ Anatomy

Through animations and illustrations, the basic elements and terms of the letter’s anatomy are presented the as an introduction to the following interactive works and theoretical text.

+ Architecture

Relationship between architecture styles and letterform styles was the topic of the various scientific literature, while in contemporary design of the twentieth century the two area are entwined. The interaction consists of illustrations and textual explanations of specific features in architecture are being compared with the letterforms from the same era, confirming that architecture and typography are unequivocally linked, and that in each period were good litmus for aesthetics, philosophy and social climate.

+ Fashion

Headers and logos of two respected fashion magazine where for decades accompanied by appearance of graphics solutions and clothing in order to establish parallels. Many considered Vogue to be the most influential fashion magazine with 23 franchise all over the world which was launched in 1892, while the Harper’s Bazaar is the oldest fashion magazine in the world, created in 1867 which has set standards of aesthetics and content of such magazines, especially during the reign of art director Alexei Brodović but also with the help of talented associates such as Man Ray, Andy Warhol, Erte and many others.

+ Development of letters

By visually examining the development of the Latin alphabet, traces start from drawings and gradually transform into abstract forms that are letters. The study starts from the Phoenician language, the north Semitic language created around the 11th century BC on the territory of present-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel that has spread all over the Mediterranean region. It is believed that some letters are even of older origin like the Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs (e.g. the letter “A” has derived from the Phoenician letter Aleph, which means bull or further in Egyptian hieroglyph “Apis” drawn as a bull head) which have certainly conveyed further to all of Indo-European and Semitic letters. If we bear in mind that language is a living thing and “little-by-little” but constantly evolving, it is not surprising that for certain letters there are findings of different translations in various fields and periods based on Phoenician writing system.

+ Character letters

If we start from the assumption that the basic measure of letters are “Roman”, which is the most common and the first independently formed shape of printing letters, then the other forms of letters such as handwriting, grotesque, decorative but of different weights and cuts only stylization of the basic forms that give character to the overall appearance of the text and messages. Therefore, the stylization of certain types of letters are compared with stylization randomly selected object – bird to explain that way stylization hint of characters through a purely visual experience that accompanies typographical aesthetics.

+ Development of fonts

Stylized tale of the slow historical development and innovation in the field of printed letters from Gutenberg to the accelerated progression of today's are being told through the movement of the horse and the typical letter aesthetics of the era. The movement is changing from slow steps over the trot to gallop, which is also considered three basic speed of the horse and correspond to different speeds in the development of fonts. Here, the term font is taken in the original context that is a set of letters and other characters such as numbers, punctuation marks, special symbols, etc., that are uniform and that their shape corresponds to one another and not only in the modern sense in electronic form letters ready for use in electronic devices.

+ Painting

Austrian painter Egon Schiele and his signature on the paintings are proof that the letters and letter do change over time, not only in the broader social level, but also on the ontological. His signature stamped on the works ranged from free to very strongly reduced and molded by geometry depicting as his style and life changed.

Basic settings of the project:

"Word on letter" is a project conceived as an interactive internet platform – website where research material and artwork on the topic of letters and typography are gathered. The web page bifurcates into two parts: the theoretical part of the research and case studies, and the artistic work that consists of eight short interactive narrative form with a variety of topics about letters and letter. It is envisaged that the project is dominated by black and white color and simplified line drawings as a counterweight an abundance of colors and variety of aesthetics available on the internet, as a return to the typographic roots. The red color appears occasionaly and only as an indication of interactivity. In this way, the web page is stands out in a sea of ​​colors and it would be an aesthetic link between new and old media.

Theoretical work primarily deals with typography, not so much from the standpoint of the history and development, as much from the point of analysis of historical parallels, current applications and on the research of possible future trends and potential development. Typography, as an art area, operates more as a series of instructions and recommendations rather than in a organized systematic theoretical structure. It is believed that typography is not intellectual activity, but a group of practical advice and guidance inherited from the history and experience of the historic typographers, occasional complemented by new knowledge. Although typography almost always is trying to satisfy the aesthetic, technical and technological, functional and ergonomic rules set a very specific task, and in some cultures it still needs to fight for its’ place. About unimposing messages and submissiveness of typography has been said by Beatrice Ward "that typography should be invisible". Similar to her statement, a contemporary French typographer Jean François Porchez said that "good typography meets the needs of topics".

According to all written previously and in the absence of the systematic typographic theory, and the spirit of interdisciplinary topics, I have based theoretical material on segments of psychology, ergonomics, history of art, history and theory of graphic design, internet and digital art.

Expected results

In present day world we live deeply immersed in the world of letters, the internet and information, in a obvious omnipresence through interrelation of typography and web. The backbone of the project "Word on letter" is to consider how the two areas work together, coexist, intertwine and grow together, and yet they have completely different logic and developmental pathways.

On the one hand, we have a typeface that developed slowly, changed moderately over the course of history, and even today it still largely holds to traditional and straight-line rules, but on the other hand, nonlinear and fast-growing internet jungle. The contrast between the field of design and the use of letters (depending on which centuries comes into account of the order) – starting with the letter grade, the relationship of various whiteness and line spacing, layout and typographic elements stacking order and, contrary to the hypertext which defies linearity and is subject to the will of the beholder. Typography is the subject of interest to a very narrow circle of guild people, and the internet is far more democratic and thus it seems to belong to everyone. And in a “no mans land” of these two areas is the very basis of study “Word on letter” that deals with diametrical differences. For the longest if time the typography was shy media that supported the arts and other fields (literature, publishing, advertising, signs, etc.) while the internet is currently the loudest accessible media.

Consequently, the work tries to answer the question of how typography is coping, developing and surviving as an archaic form of media in the volatile and fast-lane digital world, but also what are the possibilities and obstacles that may arise in the future.

Jelena Drobac